Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Whitmore Lake Annexation Question: Resources

BREAKING NEWS 10/23/2014:

AAPS has added an additional Annexation Forum, 

Wednesday, 10/29/2014 at Skyline, at 6:30 p.m.


Whitmore Lake has announced a set of Open Houses for the Ann Arbor Community:

Monday, 10/27 at Whitmore Lake High School, 6-7pm
Monday, 10/27 at Whitmore Lake Elementary School, 6-7pm

Wednesday, 10/29 at Whitmore Lake High School, 2-3:30pm
Wednesday, 10/29 at Whimore Lake Elementary School, 3-4:30pm

ADDRESSES:
Whitmore Lake High School - 7430 Whitmore Lake Rd.
Whitmore Lake Elementary School - 1077 Barker Rd.



I make no pretenses as to being "objective" about the Whitmore Lake annexation. I believe that it is the best opportunity for the Ann Arbor schools in the near future. I will write more about this (I hope!) soon. But in the meantime, if you want to read some other information, here are some links--and as I find more, I will add them!

NEXT FORUM: THURSDAY OCTOBER 23, 2014, 6:30 PM, PIONEER HIGH SCHOOL

Ann Arbor Schools Frequently Asked Questions and Background Page (There is a LOT of good information here, including information about taxation, a statistical analysis, and more.)

Whitmore Lake Schools Home Page (has all of the links to Frequently Asked Questions and more)

Citizens for Annexation web site

Here is an op-ed that Rep. Adam Zemke has written (pro-annexation). Rep. Zemke has also sponsored legislation to get additional money for the annexation. That will not be voted on until after the November 4th vote.

Here is an opinion piece from Caroline Semrau, a Whitmore Lake teacher and an Ann Arbor resident and taxpayer.


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Monday, October 20, 2014

Lincoln's Loss: Christian Lorinczy

Unlike Anna Hendren Schwalb's death in a motorist-pedestrian accident, which I described as "rare but not that rare," 13-year-old Christian Lorinczy's death at Lincoln High School is exceedingly rare.

When we think of deaths from electrocution, we think of lightning strikes--or industrial accidents.

We don't think that a 13-year-old, playing catch by the side of a high school football field, is at any risk at all from electrocution. Potentially, they might twist an ankle, at worst.

I did an internet search to see how frequently this might have happened and basically--it doesn't. I found three somewhat similar accidents in the past seven years, and two of them were in India: one was related to an illegal electricity connection and another related to a live electric wire passing through a wall when it shouldn't have been there.  The third was at South Georgia Technical College where a fountain had bad electrical wiring beneath it--and where, in fact, another student had been shocked a month earlier. That family settled a wrongful death lawsuit for $1.4 million, but that large settlement will never bring their daughter back.

We don't know the cause yet of the electrified fence/ramp at Lincoln Schools. Well, we know there was a short circuit in some wires in a pole. But we don't know why--yet.  I understand that the pole was last touched by the district (electrically speaking) about eleven years ago. So I speculate. I speculate that maintenance that would normally have been done earlier, was not done because of financial stress. I don't know what it takes to maintain a school's building and properties, but it seems like it takes a lot of work.  Given the number of financial cuts that every district in the state has taken over the past several years, many schools have deferred maintenance. If it does turn out to be related to deferred maintenance, now would be a good time for every school district in the state to take a look at their maintenance schedules.

If the issue is related to deferred maintenance, I hope that Christian's death will help our school district understand the importance of maintenance. I hope that Christian's death will help our legislators understand the real risks of cutting, and cutting, and cutting school funding. But that is just--at this point--speculation. Updated information (as more information is known) can be found at the Lincoln Consolidated Schools web site.

**************************

I don't know Christian Lorinczy. But I know his family will miss him. I know his friends will miss him. From his obituary:

Age 13, went to be with the Lord his Savior Thursday, October 2, 2014. He was born February 28, 2001 in Ann Arbor, the son of Peter and Elizabeth (Newland) Lorinczy. Chris attended Lincoln Middle School and was in the eighth grade. He faithfully attended South Side Baptist Tabernacle and was an active member of the teen department. He loved all sports, especially Tigers, Lions and University of Michigan Football. Survivors include: his parents, Peter and Elizabeth Lorinczy of Belleville; two sisters, Autumn and Kayla and two brothers, Alexander and Eli, all of Belleville; paternal grandmother, Mary (Duane) Lilly of North Adams; maternal grandparents, Paul (Marjean) Newland of Ypsilanti; and several aunts, uncles and cousins. He was preceded in death by his parental grandfather, Peter. 

Donations may be made at Chase Bank to help assist the family with funeral expenses. Donations can only be made in the form of check or money order. Donations can be made to the
Christian Lorinczy Memorial at:
2025 Rawsonville Rd
Belleville, MI 48111
(734) 485-3520

May Christian's memory be a blessing.

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Sunday, October 12, 2014

Step by Step: Moving Forward After the Death of Anna Hendren Schwalb

In the last two weeks, we lost two children. Today's post is dedicated to the memory of Anna Hendren Schwalb, and the next post is dedicated to the memory of Christian Lorinczy.

Anna was a kindergarten student at the Hebrew Day School, and a member of my synagogue, and a friend of many of my friends. She was killed tragically while crossing Geddes at dusk, and at first I thought of it as a very rare occurrence.

And pedestrian deaths are rare--but not that rare, I realized as my friend Danny said to me,
"That's just like what happened to Lauren's niece." And then I remembered. He was referring to the niece of my sister's friend Lauren. Maya Hirsch was four years old when she was killed while crossing a street in Chicago in 2006.

It is rare--but not that rare, I realized when my husband said to me,
"That's just like what happened to David and Sally's neighbors." He was referring to our college friend David, whose neighbor Samuel Cohen-Eckstein was killed on a road in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, shortly before his bar mitzvah last year, in the fall of 2013.

It is rare--but not that rare, I realized as I thought about Jimmy Amico's son Jarrid. Jimmy was a high school classmate of mine, and his ten-year old son Jarrid was killed by a van while he was riding a bicycle in my hometown of Rye, NY in 2006.

That's just the kids, and that's just the deaths. That doesn't count my friend Cara's close encounter with a car while she walked through a crosswalk (broken leg, but her daughter in the stroller was fine); or my friend Wendy's colleague, who was hit--and killed--by a bus. Or the Ann Arbor child who was recently hit by a car on the way to school--and luckily, escaped with scrapes.

When you start to think about it, you too may remember a friend, or a friend of a friend, whose child was killed by a car.

The obituaries called each of these "tragic accidents," and they are. As a person who spends my days thinking about public health, though, I know that these deaths are preventable. Preventable.

And I know I am not the only person who occasionally drives above the speed limit. Who has gotten aggravated by traffic. Who occasionally is distracted by my thoughts, by a story on the radio, by a phone call. Just the other day--while thinking about what I would write for this blog post (ironic, but not in a good way)--I had to brake really hard to stop for a crosswalk, where a pedestrian was waiting on the side.

*********************************

One Passover, for the Seder (the dinner event where Jews tell the story of the Israelite's Exodus from Egypt and from slavery), we asked our guests to bring symbols of liberation and symbols of slavery. One guest brought car keys as a symbol of liberation. Another brought car keys as a symbol of slavery.

Yes, cars can free us, and cars can enslave us.  But we also need to remember--cars can be weapons, too.

**********************************

The death of Maya Hirsch triggered a lot of activity. 

A new law, dubbed "Maya's Law," increased the penalties for people who drive through stop signs. At least one police officer started handing out stickers with tickets--stickers that read:


REMEMBER MAYA! Maya was killed by a driver who failed to stop at a stop sign & yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk. STOP AT STOP SIGNS! YIELD TO PEOPLE IN CROSSWALKS!

After being sued by the Hirsch family, the City of Chicago paid a $3.25 million lawsuit settlement, and as Grid Chicago writer John Greenfield wrote in 2012, The Maya Hirsch Settlement Will Help Save the Lives of Other Chicago Children.

Maya’s family eventually sued the city after it was discovered that, at the time of the crash, the signs and markings at the intersection weren’t up to the city’s official standards...Under Mayor Emanuel and Chicago Department of Transportation commissioner Gabe Klein, the city has taken many steps to improve pedestrian safety, demonstrating the city’s changing transportation priorities. The transportation department has repainted hundreds of crosswalks with high-visibility zebra-stripe markings. New leading pedestrian interval traffic signals give walkers a head start over turning vehicles. Existing red light cameras and incoming speed cameras will discourage dangerous driving. Recently the city began installing hundreds of “Stop for pedestrians within crosswalk” signs to remind drivers of the new state law. And the city’s Chicago Forward action agenda states the goal of reducing traffic fatalities to zero.The $3.25 million settlement underscores the importance of continuing these improvements. It’s unfortunate that taxpayer money has to be spent this way when the same amount could have paid for 8,125 “Stop for pedestrians” signs, which are purchased, sited and installed for $400 each.
After the death of Samuel Cohen-Eckstein, the speed limit was dropped on the street where he was killed, and the timing of traffic lights was altered to slow drivers down.

It took Jarrid Amico's parents several years--and in the meantime, another child was hit by a car in the same spot--but eventually, they got a stop sign placed on the street near the site of the accident.

************************

After Anna's death, my son and I were discussing street crossings.
He described a scene from a couple of years ago, when he was in eighth grade.
He and his friend were leaving the County Rec Center, and rushing to catch the bus on the other side of the street. So they ran across Washtenaw. (Now, there is a traffic light there--but at the time there was none.) "Standing in the middle of the road," he told me--"That was scary."
Why, I asked him, didn't he walk to the crosswalk?
"Because it was two blocks away."

Moral: distances that are short by car, seem much longer by foot. We need to think about scale, not just from the point of view of cars, but also from the point of view of pedestrians and bicyclists.

**************************

As a community, we have a chance--and a responsibility--to improve pedestrian safety.

As walkers, we have a chance--and a responsibility--to improve pedestrian safety.

As drivers, we have a chance--and a responsibility--to improve pedestrian safety.

May the memories of Anna Hendren Schwalb, and Jarrid Amico, and Maya Hirsch, and Samuel Cohen-Eckstein, be blessings. In their memories, let's advocate for safer streets, and work to make our own driving more careful.



Taken from the World Health Organization's
First Global Pedestrian Safety Campaign





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Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Ypsilanti Community Schools School Board Election: Candidate Background Information

Below, you will find my first foray into the Ypsilanti school board candidates in the upcoming election. There will be more to come, and as I add information, some of it will be added in separate posts, but this will be the "source post." By which I mean, come to this post and you should find links to the information that you need.

You might recall that in the same election in which the Willow Run and Ypsilanti districts consolidated, the voters voted on Ypsilanti and Willow Run school board candidates--in case the consolidation didn't go through. But it did go through, and as a result, the WISD appointed the current school board. So this will be the very first election for the Ypsilanti Community Schools!

Six of the seven incumbents are running together (although they don't call themselves a slate, they have one web site so I think I would call them a slate): http://www.ycsfirstchoice.com/

Another group of five candidates that is running together is: Meredith Schindler, Sharon Irvine, Ellen Champagne, Bill Kurkjian, and K.J. Miller. They will be having a meet and greet on October 16th, 7 p.m. at the Arbor Brewing Microbrewery (formerly the Corner).


NOTE: Ypsilanti Community School Board Candidates Forum, 
sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Fora Better Ypsi, 
was held on October 13th.

WEMU Coverage here. (You can listen to the audio of the forum.)

Mlive Coverage here.

Four Candidates for Two Six-Year Terms

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - 6-Year Term

Vote for two


MLive Candidate Comparisons: As of 10/14/2014, Gregory Myers had not responded to the survey.

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Brenda Meadows410 N. Harris Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-972-2764bmeadows42@gmail.com
Maria Sheler-Edwards51 Colony Ct.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-547-5557mariasheler@gmail.com
Gregory Myers1219 Stamford Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-218-4547gmmyers526@gmail.com
Bill Kurkjian405 Oak St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-255-4288makuavalley@comcast.net


Bill Kurkjian:

Brenda Meadows:

Gregory Myers: http://www.ycsfirstchoice.com/

Maria Sheler-Edwards: http://www.ycsfirstchoice.com/


Eight Candidates for Three Four-Year Terms

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - 4-Year Term

Vote for three


MLive Candidate Comparisons: As of 10/14/14, Linda Snedecar-Horne had not responded to the survey.

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Anthony VanDerworp1309 Kingwood
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-485-4910tvanderworp@gmail.com
David R. Bates1208 Pearl St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-646-0527drbates@me.com
Djeneba Cherif948 Jefferson St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-645-5735djeneba.cherif@gmail.com
Celeste Hawkins2399 Draper Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-274-0694chawkins@emich.edu
Linda Snedacar-Horne205 Oak St. #1
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-678-1051horne4ypsd@gmail.com
Ellen Champagne12 N. Wallace Blvd. #1
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-355-9531ellecham@umich.edu
Sharon Irvine2411 Burns
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-678-8517sirvine12@gmail.com
Mark Wilde1707 Hamlet
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-533-9453markwilde@provide.net

Anthony Vanderworp: http://www.ycsfirstchoice.com/

Celeste Hawkins: http://www.ycsfirstchoice.com/

David Bates: http://www.ycsfirstchoice.com/

Djeneba Cherif: www.electcherif.com

Ellen Champagne:

Linda Snedecar-Horne:

Mark Wilde: www.electmarkwilde.com

Sharon Irvine:


Six Candidates for Two Two-Year Terms

Ypsilanti Community Schools - Board Member - 2-Year Term

Vote for two


MLive Candidate Comparisons As of 10/14/2014, Don Garrett Jr. and Ricky Jefferson had not responded to the survey.

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Daniel L. Raglin6825 Textile Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-483-8266dlraglin@yahoo.com
Don L. Garrett Jr.1369 Stamford Rd.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-730-9650dgarrettjr05@comcast.net
K.J. Miller405 Oak St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-904-6278kjmiller@dickinson-uright.com
Sharon Lee577 Desoto Ave.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-484-1493scasey2006@hotmail.com
Ricky Jefferson211 W. Ainsworth
Ypsilanti, MI 48197
734-276-4832rjeffersonypsi@comcast.net
Meredith Schindler305 Maple St.
Ypsilanti, MI 48198
734-476-6277ypsimer@yahoo.com



Sharon Lee: Important Note--Sharon Lee has withdrawn her candidacy due to illness. She will remain on the ballot but she asks you to vote for two other candidates who would actually be able to devote the time and energy to the position. I hope she has a speedy recovery!

K.J. Miller: https://sites.google.com/site/kjmillerforycsschoolboard/


Monday, October 6, 2014

Ann Arbor School Board Candidates: Background Information

Below, you will find my first foray into the Ann Arbor school board candidates in the upcoming election. There will be more to come, and as I add information, some of it will be added in separate posts, but this will be the "source post." By which I mean, come to this post and you should find links to the information that you need.

Also, Ed Vielmetti has set up an Arborwiki page for the election. You can actually add information there yourself, or you can send it to him to add.

There is also information at the Ballotpedia website: http://ballotpedia.org/Ann_Arbor_Public_Schools_elections_(2014)

Two of the candidates: Christine Stead and Susan Baskett--are incumbents. Depending on whether you have liked what they are doing, or you have not, you might decide you definitely want to support them or you definitely don't want to support them.

A friend asked me the other day if I knew who I was voting for yet. And I don't. I have some thoughts, but what that should tell you is: a) there are more good candidates than there are positions (4), and b) I'm looking for information to help me discern my decisions too!

Four 4-Year Terms--Contact Information


MLive Candidate Survey: As of 10/14/2014, Susan Baskett, Jeffery Harrold, and Deirdre Piper had not responded to the survey.

NameMailing AddressPhoneE-mail
Patricia Ashford Manley2645 Powell Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-971-1898pamanley@comcast.net
Don Wilkerson348 Larkspur St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
231-903-1052donwilkerson2@gmail.com
Christine Stead2433 Blueberry Lane
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-717-2493christine.stead@gmail.com
Jack Panitch501 Burson Pl.
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-277-0666jpanitch@sprintmail.com
Donna Lasinski4977 St. Annes Ct.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-997-7265lasinski@mac.com
Susan Baskett3 Trowbridge Ct.
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
734-478-3338baskett1@hotmail.com
Roland Zullo3139 Rumsey Dr.
Ann Arbor, MI 48105
734-761-7679rzullo@umich.edu
Jeffery Harrold1393 King George Blvd
Ann Arbor, MI 48104
734-677-6044revharrold@sbcglobal.net
Hunter Van Valkenburgh803 Brooks St.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-276-0272hunterforschoolboard@gmail.com
Deirdre Piper5918 Versailles Ave.
Ann Arbor, MI 48103
734-223-7658dcpiper@gmail.com


Websites and additional information, alphabetically by first name:


Christine Stead: 

www.reelectchristinestead.com

Christine also has been blogging about schools issues for a couple of years now at www.k12christinestead.com.

Deirdre Piper: 

Don Wilkerson: 

Facebook Don Wilkerson for School Board: https://www.facebook.com/votedonwilkerson

Donna Lasinski: 

www.voteDonnaLasinski.com
(Note--Donna also has a web site that is for her business, at donnalasinski.com. You might be interested in that because her business is education related.)

Hunter Van Valkenburgh: 

hunterforschools.org

https://www.facebook.com/groups/691621337540165/


Jack Panitch: 

www.jackpanitchforaapsboe.com

Jeffery Harrold:

http://votejefferyharrold.org/

Patricia Ashford Manley: 

www.manleyforschoolboard.com

https://www.facebook.com/ElectManley

Roland Zullo:

Susan Baskett: 

susanforschools.com

https://www.facebook.com/susanbaskettforschools


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Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Politicians, Debates, and State Standards


Another guest post from A3 Teacher:

A large part of teaching students how to think, read, and write is getting them to express their opinions through verbal communication.  In class my students debate topics, have whole-class as well as small-group discussions.  They also present (both formally and informally) to an audience of their peers.  Public speaking is a necessary skill, not only for the speaker but also for those listening.  It allows the audience to understand the individual and to engage in a larger dialogue.  Democracy is built on the concept of various voices interacting, listening, debating, disagreeing and agreeing, and ultimately moving forward.

For this reason, I am extremely disturbed by the fact that there might not be any gubernatorial or senate debates before the November election.  Both Republican candidates sidestepped planned debates on September 8th and 10th.  Both Democratic candidates have expressed desire for multiple debates while the Republican candidates seem to be doing everything in their power to avoid these public appearances.  Over the last few days, Terri Lynn Land has hinted at the fact that she may be amenable to at least one debate with Gary Peters.  In a repeat move from the 2010 election, one meeting has been scheduled for the gubernatorial race in a town hall format.  While one town hall meeting is a start, as a Michigan citizen I expect more.  As a teacher, I expect all students to participate and engage in multiple dialogues, debates, and speeches.  In fact, our state has them built into the standards; we expect that our students engage in discussions and debates and we hold school districts accountable for this.  I do not let students opt-out and avoid these assignments (perhaps there are modifications or accommodations).  All students are held to this standard.  
Being an active speaker and listener is part of being an active member of a healthy democracy. We should expect our leaders to engage in debate and discussion instead of avoiding it.  I expect my students to meet this standard, and we should expect our leaders to do the same.



If our candidates have enough time to record videos (Snyder, Schauer for the ALS ice bucket challenge), I give them another challenge: Meet the standards that we set for our own students in the state of Michigan and debate multiple times so that the public can hear your voice.  Since we expect the same from students, surely all of our candidates can meet the same standards as well. 


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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Ypsilanti Community Schools Survey Results

Back in May of 2014, the Ypsilanti Community Schools had been around for one school year, and I felt it was time to do some reflection. You might recall that I did a survey. I knew there would be some negative feelings shared in there, but I also expected to hear a lot of positive stuff.

To my dismay, the 35 responses I got were mostly negative. And although I had said that I would post the results, that did give me pause, because I am not interested in tearing down the schools. I don't want to contribute to middle class flight. I really want YCS to be a success and I expect it to take a few years before everything is put together.

So I held off on posting anything. And then one of the YCS school board candidates asked me about the results. So I did share it with all the board candidates (except Don Garrett--his email bounced back--if you have a current email for him please forward it to me).

And then I shared it with a couple of Ypsi acquaintances, with the question of whether I should post the results. If I did post them, should I post them now, or wait until after the election?

Person A was of the opinion that I should post them now, before the election--because people might use that information to evaluate the incumbents. That person felt that if I waited until after the election, what was even the point of sharing the information?

Person B was of the opinion that it would start a necessary conversation, but it wouldn't destroy the district. But Person B also said,
I get it though - the blog is about positivity and advocacy, and this is a whole different area.  I don't know if the people who responded hoped to see their opinions presented publicly or not.  The district has done its own surveys, and they're really the ones who should be charged with presenting the results publicly.  They haven't, to the best of my knowledge, and I wish they would.  
I think that you just shouldn't make the results public.  The blog is a tool to promote things you'd like to see in the schools, and it's been really effective.  This criticism of the district, although I'd love to see it out and discussed, isn't really within the mission, as far as I can tell, of the Musings blog.

This led me to a little bit of an identity crisis as far as the Schools Musings blog goes. I mean, sure, I want to be a positive catalyst for change. But at the same time--I'm all about transparency, right? One of the cardinal aspects of this blog has been pushing for more transparency from the various local districts. The district SHOULD be publishing results of its surveys. (Somebody could get those results by FOIA'ing them, I imagine.)

But if I'm an advocate for transparency, then I need to walk the walk and talk the talk as well.  

So, herewith, you will find a short summary of what to me are the key findings--and then a link to the survey results themselves, so you can read the comments in detail. Take the findings with a grain of salt though, because this survey was not randomly-administered.

1. There were many upset band parents with the new (last year's YCS) band director. (You might recall that the well-loved Ypsi Schools band director was not re-hired. Apparently he had not had his paperwork in correctly during the hiring process.) Since I wrote the survey: The band director from the first year of YCS has retired. However, he has not quite "let go" of his role. The newly-retired band director has still been taking pot shots at the new YCS fight song on Facebook. For example, on August 15th he wrote on the YCS Marching Band 2013 Facebook page, 
Since it was established with the support of the district administration that the new fight song for Ypsilanti Community high school would be taken from "On Wisconsin" this past school year. We would be interested in knowing who arbitrarily made the decision for the marching band to play Oh, Northwestern as the new fight song this summer without the input from the district or any school employee, meaning the current high school band director. And since there is currently no band director in place at the high school who had authority to make this change?

2. Many parents upset with the new (last year's YCS) athletic director. This didn't really surprise me given the fact that he had a job history that did not speak to stability. Since I wrote the survey: The athletic director has been moved to the assistant principal position at the middle school. I'm not sure that really is "dealing" with the issue (some concerns about him seem wholly related to the AD position, and others not)--but the new AD appears to have a more traditional background for an AD and I hope will be more successful.

3. Many parents and staff concerned with violence and safety. The district continues to take steps to address these issues, but I'm not sure they are there yet.

4. Other concerns:
Lack of transparency in the district
Lack of support for teachers
Lack of challenging programs for top students
High staff turnover
Not following up on community recommendations and district vision

Some other relevant things: The YCS teachers finally have a union contract. But they are still the lowest-paid teachers in any of the county districts. Elementary teachers also get only $200/year to spend on students--for pens, paper, copies, basically anything. So is it any surprise that there is high turnover?

Now, without further ado, here are the results: link

And if you'd like to comment on them below, let me suggest that you put into your comments some concrete steps that the district could take to make things better going forward.

I  want YCS to be a success. What is the best path for that?



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Sunday, September 28, 2014

State Board of Education Responds to Andy Thomas--Doesn't Respond to Salient Points

You might recall that school board member Andy Thomas did a nice job responding to the state of Michigan's ridiculous color-coding system. I shared and analyzed Andy's letter here.

Well, finally, Andy Thomas got a response from the state. The response did not come from State Superintendent of Education Michael Flanagan himself, but rather from Deputy Superintendents Joseph Martineau.

                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        

Read Martineau's response here, in which he says that:

In order to make meaningful, valid, and reliable accountability calculations, a stringent assessment participation requirement is necessary (and required under NCLB). Without the 95% requirement, schools and districts could selectively choose not to assess lower-performing students (a practice we have seen). This is why the participation audit is stringent – not testing 95% of students in the school as a whole and in all valid groups will cause a school to drop in the overall color scale, even if its academic measures are strong. In addition, schools have three ways to make the participation target: the most recent year, averaging across the most recent two years, and averaging across the most recent three years. Only if a school misses the participation target on all three measures is it marked as missing the target. As you have pointed out, low participation rates at Pioneer High School were the ultimate factor in its red scorecard. A more appropriate question for a parent to ask would be, why did Ann Arbor Pioneer not achieve an adequate participation rate among its economically disadvantaged students? 

Actually, I don't think that is the key question, Mr. Martineau. The key question is, "Why are we using these tests as measures of whether schools are failing?" Most kids in Ann Arbor Public Schools graduate high school and go on to college. That is not a measure of a failing school. And as a parent who would like to opt my child out of ridiculous testing (but don't because I don't want to hurt our public schools' funding), this seems like even more of a ridiculous measure.

                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        

And here Andy Thomas responds to Martineau:

Purpose of ScorecardFirst, Dr. Martineau asserts that the accountability scorecard, unlike the “top to bottom” ranking, is not intended to be used to compare schools.  He states that the primary purpose of the TTB ranking is to compare all schools in the state with one another, while the purpose of the scorecard is to compare schools against their own baseline performance rather than against other schools.
I find this distinction highly disingenuous.  Each school receives an overall color rating.  These ratings are a shorthand way of evaluating schools.  They are widely used by the media, which publish lists of schools according to color code.  Inevitably, schools are compared based on their color ratings alone, and few people have the time or inclination to delve into the details behind those color ratings.
Size and DiversitySecond, Dr. Martineau does not respond to one of my main concerns:  The scorecard has a built-in bias that favors small, homogeneous schools over larger, more diverse schools.  Perhaps I did not make that point as clearly as I might have in my original letter, for which I apologize.  I hope the following data will emphasize my point.
I looked at the data for over 800 Michigan high schools and found a strong correlation between a school’s size and its overall color rating.  The average enrollment at “green” high schools is 74 students.  The average enrollment at “lime” high schools is 491, and for “yellow” high schools, 1,347. 
One might be tempted to jump to the conclusion that smaller schools are better than larger schools due, perhaps, to the advantages of a more intimate learning environment.   This may or may not be the case, but if it is, it is not supported by this data.  The reason that small schools do better than large schools on the scorecard system is that large schools are evaluated on far more criteria than small ones, and thus are more likely to have visible, measurable areas for improvement.
Furthermore, the smaller the school, the less likely it is that there will be a sufficient number of students in the various sub-groups to meet the 30-student threshold for capturing evaluation data.  Of the “green” high schools, not a single school had an identifiable ethnic sub-group (other than white).  Among the “lime” high schools, only nine out of 152 schools were evaluated on more than one ethnic sub-group.  In addition, all of the “green” schools and 40% of the “lime” schools did not receive proficiency ratings for economically disadvantaged students because they did not evaluate 30 or more economically disadvantaged students in any academic area...
It should also be noted that students may fall into more than one cell. For example, a student might be counted in the “bottom 30%” sub-group, and also in the “Hispanic”, “economically disadvantaged”, “English language learner” and “students with disabilities” sub-groups. So a student who somehow falls through the assessment crack may have an impact on multiple cells at a large, diverse school, but would have an impact on only one cell in a small, non-diverse school. 

                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        

ConclusionIn my original letter, I characterized the color rating system as arbitrary, meaningless, useless and destructive.  Nothing in Dr. Martineau’s letter has led me to a different conclusion.  I have presented a variety of data taken from the MDE website showing that the color ratings are clearly biased in favor of small, homogeneous schools and biased against large, diverse schools.  Dr. Martineau has not refuted these findings.  Dr. Martineau states that the accountability scorecard is a requirement of Michigan’s flexibility waiver to the No Child Left Behind law.  While I have no reason to question this, I would question whether the waiver requires the specific methodology implemented by the Department of Education.  I would strongly suggest that this methodology needs to be revised to eliminate the bias I have documented. 

Personally, I'd go a little bit further, and say that maybe it's time to throw out NCLB...

(Emphases added throughout.)

                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        
                                                                        


Read these in the following order:

1. Andy Thomas' original letter to Superintendent Flanagan.

2. Deputy Superintendent Martineau's response to Thomas.

3. Thomas' reply to Martineau.


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Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What Questions Do You Have for Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti School Board Candidates?

I am gearing up for the contested school board elections in Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti. To that end, I will be asking school board candidates to answer some questions, and I will be placing them on this blog.

You can help me by taking my survey, and suggesting questions to ask the (potential) school board members. In some cases, you may have a specific question or two for specific school board candidates.

Let me know what you would like to know! --Thanks, Ruth






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Monday, September 15, 2014

Five Things You'll Want to Know--In No Particular Order

1. Jenna Bacolor, Director of Ann Arbor Public Schools Rec & Ed, asked me to post this: 


The Ann Arbor Public Schools and the City of Ann Arbor have a joint Recreation Advisory Commission. The RAC meets four times a year, and they have a few (four!) openings right now--these are all for City of Ann Arbor residents. (For some openings, you can live in the school district and not in the city.) They are looking for dependable, interested people who can bring some expertise to the advisory commission.

This is your opportunity to win friends and influence people! (Or, influence policy, maybe.)

Here is the Frequently Asked Questions page. If you are interested, please contact Jenna Bacolor at bacolor@aaps.k12.mi.us and ask for an application.

2. You may have read that two teachers and an assistant principal lost their jobs because they didn't renew their teaching certifications. People are asking how I feel about it. 


a. I feel bad that they lost their jobs because they couldn't keep up with their paperwork.

b. I have mixed feelings about certification in general (based on my experiences with it--which I probably should write about sometime--I think it's mostly a way for universities and the state to make some extra money), but that is not the point. The point is, it's the law. The teachers in question had been warned multiple times that they needed to renew their certifications.

c. Yes, it does cost money--and time--to renew certifications. 99.9% of teachers who stay in teaching make sure to do that, but the general public should know that teachers have to spend their own money--often thousands of dollars on additional coursework--to keep up their certifications. See my qualms about certification in b, above. But still, the point is, it's the law. I hope they can get their certifications back.

3. Saline schools moved homecoming to accommodate Yom Kippur

That's progress, but next year, I hope that they check the calendar in advance of scheduling events like homecoming! Actually, I urge Saline Schools to adopt the same type of holiday policy that the Ann Arbor schools have. As Saline becomes more diverse (which it is), this becomes even more important.

4. In one of Amy Biolchini's last articles for the Ann Arbor News, she posted some predicted school count numbers for enrollment


She focused only on the school districts, not the charters.  Ann Arbor gained a lot of students--including many who live in the district already. Some of the other districts lost. I feel a little squeamish about schools of choice when I think of us "poaching" other districts students, although the realist in me feels that this is what we have to do to survive. On the other hand, I am hoping that we mostly gain back students from charters. You can't tell from this article whether that is what is happening. But I did get hopeful since even a few days into school, one of our local charters (Fortis Academy) was still showing up on my facebook feed with "we have a few more spots available." And I think they used to have a waiting list. Hope springs eternal!

5. What does Ferguson, Missouri have to do with our public schools?

Steve Norton does a nice job here explaining the connection. I'll leave you with this excerpt, but suggest you read the whole thing (bonus! it's short!):

We have a powerful remedy to the fear born of isolation and separation: community-governed public schools, which can serve to knit together communities and serve as their investment in the future. But the schools in Ferguson have been a victim of the same forces at work across the country, which insist that private control is better than community governance; that segregation is acceptable as long as it is voluntary; that it's ok to demand that our money not be spent to help someone else's child. Cheaper is always better, we are told; schools are just for job training. And poverty is simply an excuse. But this simply is not true. Public schools help shape the citizens of the future. Public schools can help heal the wounds we still carry, or they can deepen them. Public schools can bring us together or drive us apart.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

News and Dismay, Now More Than Ever

I was rather dismayed to learn that the latest education reporter for the Ann Arbor News, Amy Biolchini, is moving to the west side of the state and September 12th is her last day.

Since I started blogging in 2009, the Ann Arbor News has lost several reporters off the education beat.

David Jesse went to the Detroit Free Press, where he's doing a nice job as a higher education reporter.
Kyle Feldscher chose to switch into reporting on courts and criminals. (I have a hard time believing that is more fun or interesting, but it definitely gets more page views and front page stories.)
Danielle Arndt moved to the west side of the stae.
Sense a pattern?

The point is--

the point is--

the point is 

that all of these reporters were fine, and could have been excellent education reporters. (Exception here: David Jesse had been, for a long time, and still is, but in a different venue.)

If only--

IF ONLY they had stuck around.

It takes time to develop sources. One reporter, in fact, is not nearly enough to cover the education beat in Washtenaw County.

Schools need the bright light of reporters digging.

And we only need look at the stories coming out of the Free Press' excellent charter series, or the information being uncovered about the EAA by Ellen Cogen Lipton and Eclectablog, to understand why.

Oh, and did I mentioned that the Ann Arbor Chronicle closed as well? Though their coverage of the Ann Arbor school board had ceased, at least there was the occasional piece about education.

On the Inside the EAA website, it says that the Freedom of Information Act is a "Tool for Transparency." For that to be true, somebody has to be there to use it...

All of this leads me feeling...dismayed. Now, more than ever.


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Sunday, September 7, 2014

AAPS Trustee Andy Thomas Takes On Michigan's Ridiculous Color-Coding System

AAPS School Board member Andy Thomas has written an excellent letter that deconstructs the ridiculous color-coding system that gave some of the best schools in the state (including some in Ann Arbor) "red" scores, and some average-at-best schools in the state "green" scores, using a green-yellow-red scheme.

I will admit that my first reaction to the whole scoring system was--this is so ridiculous--in part because it almost entirely looks at test scores--that we should just ignore it. In general, my approach to testing is that if I don't believe in it as an evaluation tool for schools (and I don't), then I shouldn't engage with it and treat it as valid.

BUT--the school systems themselves don't get that luxury. So while we are working on that "stop overtesting" thing, I appreciate someone pointing out how idiotic this so-called evaluation is.

I am publishing the entire letter. I have added the color, and also some (clearly identified as Ed. Note) "color commentary."

If you would like to see what the letter looks like all nicely-laid out, on some nice AAPS stationary, you will find it right here. I invite you to share it!


The Letter


Dear Superintendent Flanagan:

I am writing to express my concerns over the Michigan Department of Education’s “Dashboard and Accountability Scorecard” and its color-coded rating scale.  According to your spokesperson, Jan Ellis, the color scale “is meant to be a fairly easy way for the public to understand from a variety of measurements how their school buildings and districts are doing.”

Well, it may be easy to understand the color scale:  Green is the best, followed by lime, yellow, orange and red, which is the worst.  When I learned that two of Ann Arbor’s high schools – Pioneer and Skyline – received the lowest possible rating of “red”, my reaction was… I SAW RED!!!

I imagine that many parents will simply look at the color rating and make a judgment regarding the quality of a particular school.  That is, after all, the intent – to make it easy to measure how a school is doing.  Some parents may use the color scale to select what school or district they want their children to attend.  Who would want to send their child to a school given the lowest rating the state can assign?

As it so happens, I have a son who attends Pioneer High School – and his experience is absolutely inconsistent with the “red” designation.  According to “U.S. News and World Reports”, Pioneer ranked 11th out of 873 Michigan high schools; Skyline ranked 28th.  I also am a member of the Ann Arbor Board of Education, and am regularly briefed regarding the various measurements of academic success for Pioneer and Skyline – and by most objective measurements, these schools are excellent.

So where is the disconnect?  As usual, the devil is in the details.  But first, let’s look at some of the other data the State provides regarding our schools.

The Michigan Department of Education provides a “top to bottom” percentile ranking of all Michigan public schools (including charter schools) on its website.  

[Ed. Note: In the percentile ranking, being closer to 100% is better than being close to 1%.]

Pioneer ranks in the 93rd percentile of all schools in the State.  Skyline is not far behind, with a percentile ranking of 89.  So what is the relationship between the percentile ranking and the color code?  Apparently there is none. 

And which high schools earned the highest “green” rating?  I could find only three schools on the State’s database that were rated “green”.  I wanted to compare their achievement data to Pioneer to see if they scored an even higher percentile.  What I found was that none of the three “green” high schools even received a percentile ranking. Furthermore, two of the schools were listed as “closed”, and a third (Ashley) had no published achievement data, presumably due to its small size.  

Apparently, for a school to receive a “green” rating, it must either be closed or must have such a small number of students that no meaningful achievement data is available.    

Let’s move on to the next-best rating of “lime”.  At least here, there are some schools we can compare to Pioneer:




Percent of Students Proficient by Subject
Subject
Pioneer
Mayville
Reed City
White Cloud
Lake City
Math
80.88%
35..71%
31.86%
35.29%
39.39%
Reading
93.31%
66.67%
81.42%
80.88%
80.3%
Social Studies
86.14%
56,.13%
52.25%
67.16%
60.27%
Science
76.25%
45.24%
33.83%
44.12%
49.29%
Writing
88.8%
66.67%
57.41%
46.27%
66.67%
Color Rating
Red
Lime
Lime
Lime
Lime

As you can see, achievement for these four “lime” schools is significantly lower across the board than for Pioneer.  So what gives?

As I understand it, the color rating is not based on the overall achievement level of the school, but on a rubric that includes a number of subcategories of the student population.  These include: students who rank in the bottom 30% of all scores, various racial and ethnic sub-groups, students with disabilities, and economically disadvantaged students.  Points are awarded to each of the academic subjects for each subgroup.  A maximum of 2 points are awarded per subject, for a total of 10 possible points for any given subgroup.  Additional points are added for the completion rate (i.e. graduation rate) for each subgroup, and for “other factors”, including educator evaluations and compliance factors.  The actual number of points is added up, and divided by the maximum number of possible points.  The result is a percentage, which is used to rate the schools.  The higher the percentage, the “better” the color score of the school.

Here is the way Pioneer’s score was calculated:


  

Category

Math

Reading

Soc Stud

Science

Writing

Graduation Rate
Total
Points
Awarded
Total Points Possible
All students
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
12
12
Bottom 30%
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
N/A
0
10
African American
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
1 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
2 out of 2
3
12
Asian
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
12
12
Hispanic
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
2 out of 2
2
2
White
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
12
12
Economically Disadvantaged
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
1 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
2 out of 2
3
12
Students with Disabilities
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
N/A
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
2 out of 2
2
10
Educator Evaluations






3
3
Compliance Factors






3
3
Totals






52
86
Percent of Points Possible







60.5%


Now, here is how Mayville’s score was computed:





Category

Math

Reading

Soc Stud

Science

Writing

Graduation Rate
Total
Points
Awarded
Total Points Possible
All students
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
12
12
Bottom 30%
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
0 out of 2
N/A
0
10
African American
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0
0
Asian
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0
0
Hispanic
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0
0
White
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
2 out of 2
12
12
Economically Disadvantaged
N/A
N/A
2 out of 2
N/A
N/A

2 out of 2
4
4
Students with Disabilities
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
N/A
0
0
Educator Evaluations






2
2
Compliance Factors






2
2
Totals






32
42
Percent of Points Possible







76.2%


Both Pioneer and Mayville got the maximum number of points in the “all students” and “white” categories (although it is hard for me to understand how Mayville could get the maximum number of points in math for having only a 35% proficiency rate).  Both schools received zero points for the “bottom 30%” category.  The difference between the schools is that Pioneer is much more diverse.  There were not enough African-American, Asian, Hispanic or disabled students in Mayville to be statistically meaningful.  So they were awarded no points for these sub-groups, but neither were these sub-groups included in the “possible points” column.  So Pioneer has more than twice as many possible points, and because Pioneer received no points for some of these sub-groups, it dragged down their average.

In other words, schools with very little diversity will have higher scores than those with wider diversity.  Each additional line of sub-categories is another chance for a school to be marked down. 

[Ed. Note: What follows here is an excellent analogy, in case you were having trouble with the math.]

(To draw a somewhat ridiculous analogy:  It is as though you were comparing the GPAs of two students.  The first takes only one class (basket- weaving) and receives an A.  The second takes basket-weaving, calculus, English, physics and  Latin IV.  Even though the second student gets an A in basket-weaving and three of his other four classes, his GPA will be lower than the first student’s if he gets a B in calculus.)

So that is how the scores are derived.  But how does this relate to a school’s overall color rating?  According to the web site, the cut-off scores for the various color designations are as follows:

                  Green                     85% or higher
                  Lime                       70% to 84.5%
                  Yellow                    60% to 69.9%
                  Orange                  50% to 59.9%
                  Red                         Below 50%   

So, based on this standard, Pioneer just made the cut-off for a score of “yellow” – not exactly stellar, but still much better than its actual designation of “red”.  But there is a catch.  After all the scores are calculated, an “audit check” occurs.  If a school fails to pass certain audit criteria, the result will be an “automatic red” (or as I call it, “automatic flunk”).  One of these criteria is, if a school has more than two subgroups with less than 95% participation in assessment in any of the academic cells, it is an “automatic red” – regardless of the school’s percentile ranking, or its overall score on the rubric.  

This is what tripped up Pioneer.

[Ed. Note: For those of us who are opposed to over-testing, this is an extremely significant issue. If in a class of 50 students (or a subgroup of 50 students), more than 1 student opts out of testing, then the school automatically "flunks," even if the other 48 students all passed. Which explains, to some extent, why the school districts have so much anxiety about people opting out of tests. They are high stake for the schools.]

Pioneer’s participation rate among three subgroups was below the target of 95% participation:

Subgroup
Subject
Students Enrolled
Students Assessed
Percent Assessed
Economically disadvantaged
Mathematics
70
66
94.29%
Hispanic
Social Studies
47
43
92.41%
Economically disadvantaged
Science
70
66
94.29%

Had only one additional economically disadvantaged student been assessed in mathematics and science, the percentages for both categories would have been raised to 95.73%, and Pioneer would have been classified as a “yellow” school.  Of the 600 Michigan schools that received the “red” designation, nearly half were due to this “automatic flunk” provision.

The “automatic flunk” is apparently designed to punish schools who allow even a small number of students to fall through the cracks when it comes to taking assessment tests.  I would point out once again that this has the effect of punishing only those districts with highly diverse student populations.  If a school has no subgroups (or no subgroups large enough to be considered statistically significant), it is exempt for the “automatic fail” provision.  The more subgroups a school has, the greater the likelihood that it will miss at least one student in at least one subgroup. 

The “automatic flunk” provision also offers a somewhat different perspective on the question I raised earlier:  “Who would want to send their child to a school given the lowest rating the state can assign?”  Given the way “automatic flunk” works, the question might be more reasonably expressed as, “Who would want to send their child to a school in which four out of 70 economically disadvantaged students are not properly assessed in math or science?”  My guess is that most parents would answer these two questions quite differently. 

Finally, let’s compare some overall measurements of success, including percentile ranking, math proficiency and color score for a number of high schools:

School
Percentile Rank
Math Proficiency
Color Designation
Ashley
Not available
Not available
Green
Mayville
6
35.71%
Lime
West Bloomfield
44
55.91%
Yellow
Portage Northern
77
57.72%
Orange
Pioneer
93
80.88%
Red

Notice a trend?  One would expect a strong correlation between performance measurements (such as math proficiency and percentile ranking) and color designation.  However, for these schools, at least, the higher the student achievement data, the worse the color rank.

So, to summarize my findings:
·       The only ways for a high school to get a green designation are 1) to have so few students that no statistically significant measurements can be obtained, or 2) to close.

·       The best way to get a lime designation is to have a school with no minorities present – no minorities, no achievement gap.

·       If you are a large, diverse school and have even a small number of students in the various subgroups who are not tested, you receive an “automatic red."

·       Schools with very high achievement scores can nevertheless receive a lower color designation than schools with very low achievement scores.

Given these findings, I believe the color rating scheme 
used by Michigan Department of Education is not 
only arbitrary, meaningless and useless, it is 
actually destructive.  It completely fails the stated 
objective of   providing “a fairly easy way for 
the public to understand from a variety of 
measurements how their school buildings and 
districts are doing.”  In fact, anyone relying on these 
color ratings would, in all likelihood, be completely misled 
regarding the quality of a given school.

It’s high time to toss this system into the nearest trash can and start over.

Andy Thomas, Trustee
Ann Arbor Board of Education 



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